In an electrifying finals-preview match the Sunshine Coast Lightning were able to keep their nose in front the whole game and take a stride towards the minor premiership. There were a record eight tactical timeouts used, with coaching advice and substitutions causing a swathe of momentum changes. Great efforts from Giants bookends Caitlin Bassett and Sam Poolman helped secure two bonus points, but were not enough to overcome a complete team performance by the Queenslanders, who were classy and controlled at all times in their 60-56 victory.
Giants had a healthy start, leading 3-1 early thanks to an intercept by Amy Parmenter. However, soon the visitors took control, with their preliminary moves and fake passes working beautifully to create open spaces for cut and drive. The Lightning went on an 8-2 run – even with some errors, their outstanding gains from the zone defence put a roadblock in the Giants’ flow. It was hard to pinpoint the best player for Lightning, as all contributed equally to the successful conversion of turnovers. The easiest path of entry for the Queenslanders was Steph Wood, who totally outpaced Manu’a on every move. The opposite goal attack, Jo Harten, wasn’t her usual influential self, with only one goal in the first eight minutes. She was taking first phase on the centre pass and thus not entering the shooting circle until several plays later.
Giants clawed themselves back into the contest by forcing their opponents’ passes wide, with Sam Poolman also covering the lateral moves, creating doubt and two held balls. Poolman’s excellent footwork and timing made up for the moments that the other defenders allowed too much space, but she and coach Fitzgerald would have been frustrated by her shooters only making 75% whilst the Lightning hit 16 perfect shots in the first quarter. The scramble for rebounds was interesting, with multiple players not able to secure the ball and possession often coming to Caitlin Bassett right at the end.
Sunshine Coast withstood the threat from Giants, entering the second quarter one goal ahead. Their defenders adjusted and swarmed over every move from the Sydney team, with Phumza Maweni’s deliberate grappling of arms unnoticed time and again, requiring Basset to awkwardly reposition. It was Harten who sparked the revival for her team, authorative drives and very quick releases, and more volume and accuracy the big improvements. Giants pumped out to a five-goal lead midway through the quarter.
Cara Koenen continued to impress with the judgement and speed of moving off her holds for a lob, but when Poolman and Manu’a double-teamed her it interrupted the attacking structure with good rewards. Lightning called a clever timeout and brought on Maddy McAuliffe at wing defence and Peace Proscovia at goal shooter. Once the Ugandan star came on the momentum changed completely, with some slick feeds from Laura Scherian and a rebound bringing them back within touch. Midway through the quarter there was a seamless change of umpires as Marc Henning appeared to suffer a recurrence of a calf strain that he acquired at the Netball World Cup.
Beginning the second half the Lightning started to totally outplay the Giants. The host’s feeds were messy, their accuracy dropped off, and they didn’t concentrate on defence for the full three seconds. As a result, the Sunshine Coast leapt to a three goal lead in only three minutes. Coach Fitzgerald urgently used her reserves, with Kiera Austin into wing attack, captain Kim Green to centre, and Price to the bench. There was now a massive height mismatch with Austin against McAuliffe, but the Giants youngster was not always secure on the feed, delivering a ball to the space behind Bassett, and executing passes that forced some teammates off balance. Green too was out of practice in centre, her defence too much about chopping with arms and not enough coverage of Langman’s moves. Part way through the quarter the scoreline favoured Lightning 42-38.
Langman herself was not within sin, also rushing and miscalculating a feed to Proscovia, allowing Poolman an easy backspace intercept and the Giants to stay in touch. An intercept from Austin provided a chance to level but Harten’s miss was grittily taken by Pretorius, and Proscovia moved the margin back to two. Another miss from Harten bit even harder, as the Giants shooters simply could not repay good defensive work. At the other end, Scherian had moments of brilliance, deciding astutely between the instant feed and the pause to wait for players to rotate. With only two turnovers, she dominated the whole match and kept Amy Parmenter very quiet, as the Sydney wing defender was unable to dictate space or win her usual amount of possession. The score was 47-42 with fifteen minutes to play.
Having shot at a lowly 64%, Harten was benched and Fitzgerald used Bassett, Austin, Green, and Price as her front end. Immediately Price chased down Langman and caused an uncharacteristic fumbled ball. The pressure was on Giants to turn ball over, but they only managed 10 gains for the match, half of which came from Poolman. In fact the home team was lucky to stay close due to a game-high five rebounds from Bassett, shading even the remarkable Pretorius. There was a moment when the match might have needed yet another reserve official as umpire Booth slipped on a decal. Lightning kept a 3 to 5 goal load the whole quarter. They showed patience, width, and variety in attack, spearheaded by 25 perfect shots by Proscovia. The Giants did enough to win a second bonus point but suffered defeat to the visitors by four at full time.
Sunshine Coast Lightning 60 defeated Giants Netball 56
MVP: Steph Wood (Lightning)
GS Caitlin Bassett, GA Jo Harten, WA Kim Green, C Jamie-Lee Price, WD Amy Parmenter, GD Kristiana Manu’a, GK Sam Poolman
Bench – Kiera Austin, Matilda McDonnell, Teigan O’Shannassy
Coach – Julie Fitzgerald
Sunshine Coast Lightning
GS Cara Koenen, GA Steph Wood, WA Laura Scherian, C Laura Langman, WD Jacqui Russell, GD Karla Pretorius, GK Phumza Maweni
Bench – Peace Proscovia, Maddy McAuliffe, Annika Lee-Jones
Coach – Noelen Taurua
Caitlin Bassett 36/40 (90%)
Jo Harten 16/25 (64%)
Kiera Austin 4/7 (57%)
Cara Koenen 14/15 (93%)
Steph Wood 21/27 (78%)
Peace Proscovia 25/25 (100%)
Karla Pretorius 8 (3 intercepts)
Phumza Maweni 6 (2 intercepts)
Sam Poolman 5 (2 intercepts)
Laura Scherian 23
Laura Langman 18
Kim Green 18
Caitlin Bassett 5
Karla Pretorius 4
Laura Langman 6
Kim Green 5
Caitlin Bassett 3
Steph Wood 3